Dog (and cat and fish) days

Dog (and cat and fish) days

A look at the value, Jewish and otherwise, of having a pet

The Okin family loves Molly.
The Okin family loves Molly.

Chewed-up pillows, fur all over the couches, and mud tracks on the floors are the least of the hassles you have to deal with when owning a dog, but it’s worth it in the long run.

I was just 9 years old when I first met my West Highland Terrier, Molly, and it was right before Passover. We traveled to South Jersey to visit Molly, who was only seven weeks old, and the size of a snowball. Once we met her, we knew this little ball of fur would be our newest family member, but she was too young to come home with us right away, so we paid our deposit and decided to come back after Passover to get her. When we did, we took her home in a little box. The whole ride home, our new puppy was silent, and we worried that she was too passive. However, that night, as we put her in the kitchen, boarded off by a fence so she couldn’t get out and “mark” her territory all over the hardwood floors and rugs, we had no idea of what this night would bring.

The crying started the second we went upstairs. We felt bad hearing Molly whimper, but we figured it would stop, and we ignored it. When we left her downstairs, we had made sure she was as comfortable as a new puppy could be, and we gave her plenty of love and toys. But now, as she cried nonstop, my 9-year-old self felt terrible for leaving her downstairs. I felt that we had done her a great injustice.

None of us got much sleep that night. We kept going downstairs to comfort Molly. The rest of Molly’s puppyhood was a whirlwind of ruined rugs, chewed-up shoes, and white fur over every surface. But despite all this, Molly was here to stay. Now, at 13, she has grown up into a loving and much more tame adult. Yes, she still has her puppy-like moments, but for the most part she is calm.

Our experience with our dog has been worth the minor hassles that dog ownership brings. We have given Molly the unconditional love and attention that she needs.

When you have a pet, you have to learn and study the way to properly care for it.

This may be more complicated for observant Jews. On Passover, you will have to find kosher for Passover food for your pet, and cleaning up the house will be more challenging. However, kosher for Passover cat or dog food isn’t too hard to find. Owning a pet is already a major responsibility. A pet owner should be prepared to feed, walk, and give the pet all the proper attention that it needs. Owning a pet may be expensive, but it is worth it for the love and companionship pets bring to the household.

Kyle, Sari, and Adyna Rosen cuddle their cat, Mischief.
Kyle, Sari, and Adyna Rosen cuddle their cat, Mischief.

The laws for taking care of a pet are even mentioned in the Torah: We are required to feed our animals before we feed ourselves. In the Bible, those who care for animals are heroes, while those who hunt animals are villains. Jacob, Moses, and King David all were shepherds, people who cared for animals. Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill as a shepherd. Similarly, Rebecca was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals. When Abraham’s servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well, and thereby proved herself a worthy wife. On the other hand, Esau, a hunter, is portrayed as a villain.

The primary principle behind the treatment of animals in Jewish law is preventing tza’ar ba’alei chayim, the suffering of living creatures. Judaism always has recognized the link between the way a person treats animals and the way that person treats human beings. A person who is cruel to a defenseless animal undoubtedly will be cruel to defenseless people. Many modern studies have found a relationship between childhood cruelty to animals and adult criminal violence.

Pets are not only cute and good companions — according to doctors, there also are real health benefits to having pets. Did you know that dogs can help reduce depression and anxiety and ease loneliness? Some people even get therapy dogs; they help people with autism or Down syndrome, and people in hospitals or retirement homes, among others. Golden retrievers are a particularly popular breed to be used therapy dogs, because of their calm and friendly nature. Most dogs, however, are capable of cheering someone up.

Sometimes, just having a pet as a companion can do wonders for someone’s health. Studies have shown that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than people without pets. The pet population nationwide has been growing dramatically for nearly a half century, from about 40,000,000 pet cats and dogs in 1967 to more than 160,000,000 in 2006.

Adyna Rosen, a pet owner from Teaneck, says, “My pets have always helped me relax and decompress after a long day. Pets give you unconditional love. I’ve had cats my whole life, and have raised both kids with a variety of pets in the house, including fish, hamsters, guinea pigs, and hermit crabs. Pets teach us how to care for another living creature. They teach kids compassion, kindness, and responsibility.”

Randy Houston of Englewood says, “No matter how good or bad my day has been, when I come home and am greeted by one or both of my cats, I’m the happiest man alive. All the troubles of the world go away, if only for those few minutes.”

Now that my dog is a senior citizen, I think back on how much she has enhanced my life and that of my family as well. Although we have always had to make special considerations for her, following not just the Jewish laws of taking care of an animal but going above and beyond to meet her specific needs, she has brought us endless joy and happiness.

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